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Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser

Beginning Book

Study of The French Revolution

Hilaire Belloc




Chapter 1: The Political Theory of The Revolution

Belloc summarizes the revolutionary ethic, saying, "a political community pretending...a moral right of defending its existence against all other communities, derives the civil and temporal authority of its laws not from its actual rulers, nor even from its magistracy, but from itself....[T]he community cannot express authority unless it possesses corporate initiative; that is, unless the mass of its component units are able to combine for the purpose of a common expression, are conscious of a common will, and have something in common which makes the whole sovereign indeed." I think this coincides with the idea behind "We the people..." in the beginning of the American Constitution.

If I understand correctly, he goes on to say that this political freedom does not guarantee righteous behavior by the group, but that there's no system more fair. As a Catholic, Belloc has to believe that final justice is God's domain.

I assert that all authority exists from discipline, at least. Few governments allow much willful input by subjects. I think some of the French experiments came closer than anything else at that scale, and although France returned to more authoritarian systems, the Revolution began a trend, and 230 or so years later, any state that wants international respect has to derive its authority from some citizen input -- they probably have to have elections or at least pretend.

I don't know much about England in the early 1900's, but Belloc writes "the political theory upon which the Revolution proceeded has, especially in this country, suffered ridicule as local, as ephemeral, and as fallacious," so opinions were still progressing toward a general acceptance of republican government a century ago.

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